Jacqui is a Graduate metallurgist. She looks after day-to-day operations in a mineral processing plant. The mine she works at produces lead, zinc and silver – and she’s in the department which is in charge of separating these ores using a method of floatation – where different elements are individually floated off.
"My job specifically is a consultative role. I advise the operations personnel and have a certain amount of accounting in terms what coming in, what’s coming out and where it’s going. I keep track of efficiency, where it could be improved, in that advisory capacity,” she says.
“Everyday, I would have to walk around the plant, make sure everything’s okay, check on equipment, on density and flow rates and that. Because it’s old equipment, certain things block up and need fixing.” Jacqui says. “Myself and my superintendent, we will do a walk-around, and see things that the operator might be too busy to see, or hasn’t had a chance to look at yet.”
But Jacqui’s job is full of variety, as she tells us. “I also work on improvement projects, and I oversee new projects. I guess there is a certain amount of record keeping, with operator log sheets. If there is different mineralisation in the ore, I ask the lab to do test work. If I want to trial a new re-agent or a new piece of equipment, I oversee the project or liaise with the lab. It’s a bit of everything. That’s what makes it fun.”
The best part of the job, Jacqui shares, is the lifestyle.
“I live 5 minutes drive from work, I don’t need to worry about being stuck in traffic. I miss the shopping though – but here it’s just different. It’s a community feeling. Everyone knows each other.”
“They’re very welcoming at work. We’ve carved out a little niche for ourselves out here. In a city-based job you don’t get that happy cuddly feeling. Which sounds strange in a male dominated industry!” Jacqui laughs.
“Everyone is just closer. Which is what I like out here. There isn’t the pollution, and you see the stars at night. Just things like that. It’s not so far to go out to the country.”
“In the work itself, I like it because it’s very hands on. I can see in the work that I’m doing behind the desk – I can step out my door and see where it’s affecting [things practically]. Making a difference on a grand scale. It’s exciting.”
“For me, the greatest challenge is the fact that it’s a male dominated industry. I’m also Chinese, being out in the country, there’s a bit of that redneck culture going around. It’s also one of those mine sites which is very old-school. There aren’t many women in the operations side. There’s a few in admin, but not on the operations side. The old fellas who have been here for 30 years and are very set in their ways.“
“One thing, that’s going to sound a little odd,” Jacqui laughs, “is that I’m 165cm – I’m short - most things are designed for people who are 6 foot – so it’s hard to get equipment. Even the mine houses we get given – are suited for people really tall.”
“One of the challenges would be I – at the tail end of things [in the mining process] - need to make sure everything is going okay – I need to answer to things if things go wrong. I need to fix it where possible. Because everything is happening on such a large scale, it can be difficult. But, in any job there are circumstances beyond your control.”
While Jacqui is passionate about her work, this wasn’t an industry that she had always considered. When she was in high-school, she wanted to be an Environmental Scientist. “It was actually a fluke that I went into this. I was interested in chemistry, but didn’t want to work in straight chemistry, because I wasn’t interested in just the whole white coat lab thing, or in being an academic, writing lots of papers.”
“I like to get my hands dirty and that sort of the thing. The course I was looking at got canned by the uni – water quality and that. But then a summer school came up – a two week camp thing, where you tour a bunch of mine sites around the state - which got me interested in mining. “ she recalls. “We looked at this thing called Metallurgy, which sounded interesting. It involved travel and you could go overseas without doing retraining. This was still science, with an engineering kind of lean. It just suited me.”
“I’m still very early in my career. I’d like to get experience in different commodities and processes. Being here, because it’s a remnant mine, flotation is something I’m interested in – you need to be able to solve things because it’s old. You’re being thrown in the deep end.”
Jacqui says that one day she’d like to get experience with work overseas. “That’s one of the advantages with the work. You go to so many far off places because of the remoteness of the work – I guess I’d be able to see a lot more of that world than if I just went there on holiday.”
What personal qualities are needed for the job?
You can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and, in there, you need to be fairly enthusiastic about your work.
You need good people skills, as you’re working in an advisory role. You’re always going to be telling other people things they need to do. You need to be able to communicate that. Also having to liaise with other departments all the time. It’s about getting along with other people – and getting things done!
You need a certain amount of leadership and teamwork.
I guess – you need a certain amount of scientific curiosity. Just be able to look at things with an open mind.
Advice for people entering the industry?
Don’t be afraid to try. When I was at uni, I was very involved in career support with the younger students. There is a certain level of apathy in regard to finding work experience. We weren’t encouraged to find work experience, but I found finding work experience helped me find a better job, which eventually led me to a graduate position.
Just things like networking, taking opportunities when they present themselves, to get to meet people.
It’s a small industry - someone you meet when you’re a student, you might be sitting across the table from them in an interview in a few years.
People know people, who I’ve met through other things, who I haven’t guessed would know each other. It’s a transient industry with people moving around a lot. It’s good if you’re looking for work if you’ve got a network of contacts, which is great.